There has been a lot of discussion following “Daybreak” regarding the role of religion in the series, a lot of it claiming that the finale’s use of religious terminology and the concept of a “higher power” was too reductive and problematic to serve as an endpoint, too clean and concise to possibly capture the moral ambiguities and political differences that have plagued the series. I will admit, up front, that I can’t particularly relate to this argument, for two reasons.
First, I feel it is primarily an argument of semantics: while discussing the finale during the special edition of the /Filmcast[Now available for download here!], Devindra Hardawar noted that he viewed the higher power as a “natural order,” something which derives its power as much from nature than it does from anything religious. What he was describing was spirituality, not religion: yes, the terminology of Angels was utilized within the series to describe certain aspects of the finale, but are we really going to take word use as a justifiable argument in a world with fundamentally different values of religion and language that would make such a definitive reading problematic?
Second off, I don’t particularly feel it matters due to the reaction the finale achieved for me personally: while there are various nitpicks that Devindra, Meredith Woerner and I discussed during that two-hour breakdown of the episode, for the most part the finale was designed to provide powerful and dramatic moments for the characters we wanted to see, and for this journey for Earth. Those moments don’t become fundamentally less powerful when they are given a place within a broader agenda as long as that agenda does not supercede the characters involved: since the “higher power” remained vague and unexplained, it allowed the impact to sit where it should sit.
But getting talking about the idea of an omniscient force, or higher power, got me thinking about the individual who is most responsible for defining every single one of those road signs to Earth, of bringing all of those characters to life. Bear McCreary, who has been scoring the series since the show’s first season, has been perhaps the most single-handedly responsible for the series’ emotional success, having had a hand in every episode and having been “in control” of character destinies with pivotal decisions that, up until this season, have been primarily behind the scenes.
But with the advent of his blog, Bear McCreary’s genius has been put on full display, and while he no doubt still plays coy about the role he has played in the show’s overall aesthetic, the fact of the matter is that he is an indispensable part of the series’ identity, and of the various Galactica-related talents moving over to prequel series Caprica he is by far the one who may have the most immediate impact. It is no surprise reading McCreary’s epic explanation of the work he did for “Daybreak” that there was something special about the music in this episode, because my recollection of its finest moments often come through not as images, but rather as music.
So while some are off cursing the series of omniscient powers that apparently solve the show’s problems too easily, I’ll be over here worshipping the real higher power, and problem solver, of Battlestar Galactica.
[I always write my reviews without reading what other critics have written, not because I don’t respect their opinions (precisely the opposite) but rather because I feel as if I have nothing to add once I finish reading them on occasion, and I want to feel motivated to write and produce blog material. And while I may have gone with the “volume” approach with the Series Finale, this doesn’t mean that other critics haven’t been able to far better focus on some of the issues I really wanted to emphasize myself. So, let’s take a trip through the critical response to the finale as we start our Long Goodbye.]
Critics love Battlestar Galactica, and those that don’t do feel kind of bad about it. This is one of those “events” in the world of television criticism, where it becomes the dominating topic of discussion within critical fields, and while there is a mostly positive buzz surrounding the finale this doesn’t mean that there isn’t some disagreement. So let’s, below the fold so as to not spoil anyone, start sorting through the reviews for some things they made me reconsider, and some things that I want to question.
When the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries first began, there were two main questions: who are these people who are leading humanity forward after this devastating tragedy, and what is the nature of the Cylons who caused that devastation? It was part of that central binary the show put forward, humans vs. Cylons, but from the very beginning these are not two separate questions. In the character of Boomer, this balance between who/what was inherently questioned, as those who straddled the line between human and Cylon were forced to confront these types of questions. When the Final Four Cylons were revealed, they all fell on different sides: Tyrol accepted “what” begrudgingly in the quotation above, Tory downright embraced it, while Tigh refused to abandon “who” and continued to emphasize his personal identity.
At this point, we as viewers are all people straddling this line between “who” and “what” in the shadow of “Daybreak,” a series finale which struggles less from pressure within the show itself and more from the external pressure of fan expectation. The problem is that we, as fans, grapple with similar problems: are we concerned, moving into the finale, about who these characters are and what journey they have taken, or are we too caught up in the “plot holes” or the questions to which we demand answers? It’s not a new binary amongst viewers: for ages people have been complaining about episodes for having too few explosions, or for being too slow, or for not doing enough to advance the show’s complicated plot structure. Whereas for most of those episodes, I’ve noticed strong character development, effective mood building, and an almost cathartic sense of pacing that is part of what makes the series more than just science fiction.
“Daybreak” is an episode that, more than answering which side of this binary people should fall on, should destroy it altogether. This isn’t about plot, or character, but the intersection of these ideas. In the show’s fourth season, amidst some admittedly complicated and on occasion bungled storylines, one thing that has remained consistent is the idea that the definitions of human and Cylon are melding together. Much as Edward James Olmos argued against race being used as a cultural determinant during the United Nations panel earlier in the week, we should be beyond the point of considering these people purely along the lines of human vs. Cylon, just as we should be beyond the point of considering the show in terms of plot vs. character.
So, let there be no red line drawn down the deck: with this epic, sprawling, action-filled and philosophically-driven finale, Ronald D. Moore has accomplished what he set out to do. He manages to meld together the cheeky with the solemn, the profound with the surreal, the whimsical with the emotional, in a way that gives you that sense that destiny is not a four-letter word, that plot and character are neither slave to the other, and that whatever this show accomplished it will go down in a fashion befitting of one of television’s most effective pieces of programming, period, independent of its science fiction heritage.
So say, if not us all, then at least this particular believer.
Considering how much time and energy I’ve devoted to Battlestar Galactica, one would think that I would have spent all of this week preparing an epic list of episodes, plus some final thoughts before the show’s series finale this evening. However, I realized at a certain point that I couldn’t do it: there was too much to say, too much that I’d end up repeating in tonight’s review of the finale itself. If I was going to discuss or engage with the series, I had to diversify.
As a result, after many requests and much rumination, my brother Ryan (from McNutt Against the Music) and I collaborated on the very first, and special, edition of The McNuttCast, a half-hour discussion about popular culture, including television, movies, music and video games.
In this episode focused solely on Battlestar Galactica, we discuss everything ranging from favourite episodes and characters to the pacing concerns in Season Four and our hopes for tonight’s finale. We discuss some big questions, including at what point the series first struck us as something genuinely unique, and also some smaller things along the way.
When The McNuttCast moves to its normal structure, it’ll be a bit more of a departure for me and the blog – rather than replacing any existing blog content, it’s rather there to add a little bit of diversity. While I’ll be leading the way on television, and the Elder McNutt has the music beat, we’re pretty even on movies and video games, so it will be interesting to see how I adapt to suddenly discussing those topics on a regular basis in a critical framework beyond Twitter. There’s more information about our goals and our future structure in the first episode.
In the meantime, though, it’s all Battlestar all the time – in our 30-minute structure (this one runs a bit longer) we don’t have room (or the free time) to delve into every single episode, so feel free to let us know which ones we forgot, or which ones we were remiss in including. And, of course, come back in the wee hours this evening for my full, likely thesis-length review, of the second part of “Daybreak.”
NOTE: You can find chapter breaks in the list below – we’re currently working on getting the Subscription side of things together, as this was a bit of a last minute launch (and the Elder is currently on a plane on his way to Saskatchewan of all places). When we get things finalized, we’ll be sure to update accordingly.
Methinks that Ronald D. Moore has placed a red line right down the ranks of the Galactica faithful, which is something that he seems to revel in – it is not that the beginning of “Daybreak” is inherently a bad episode, but rather that it represents a very cautious approach that is treating this three-hour finale as an episode in and of itself as opposed to an extension of the episodes that came before it. The result is another in a long line of setup episodes, weaving in and out from his main character’s past lives in Caprica City in a way that makes thematic sense to the show as a whole, but doesn’t actually feel like it connects with the mutiny, or the rest of the fourth season thus far.
There’s something to be said for this kind of approach: with a cast this large and with a timeline this varied in terms of both action and reaction, it’s easy to see why returning to who these people were before “the Fall” would be of some value. And yet, at the same time, I left the episode not pondering how much these characters have changed but rather how much they’ve remained the same. Something about the way the episode was structured made it a bit too easy, the parallels between their former lives and their current predicament too simply stated, for us to forget some of what has happened to them, to remove the context of forward momentum and replace it with a potent nostalgia.
The result is something different, not something wrong: when Adama has his heroic speech, we are properly on the edge of our seat, properly considering the gravity of this situation, and properly realizing just how epic this is going to eventually be. But we’ve been waiting for something epic for a long time now, and by layering that suspense with the catharsis of the flashbacks we’re taken out of the season and placed into a series perspective perhaps too disconnected from the season thus far.
I’m left wondering not whether Moore is steering this ship in the right direction for the finale, which has the right kind of epic qualities as we need it to have coupled with a strong connection to these characters and their past lives, but rather whether this finale remains unchanged from the plan originally designed for when the second season was to be only 13 episodes – I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have been any different. As a result, while it feels like we’re heading in the right direction for a series finale, I don’t quite know if it feels like an ideal capoff to the season in and of itself.